I spent yesterday back in the recording studio with my band, trying to finish our new album, and will be heading back there as soon as I send this off. If anyone is curious to hear what I do when I'm not writing, I've posted a rough mix from yesterday here
It's been quite a week for me, and I'm tired. So for my last entry as this week's guest blogger, I'm going to post a response to my book from my dad, Jack Canfield. As you can imagine, some not very nice things are being said about him as a result of my writing some not very nice things about him. I just want to say that he has been 100 percent supportive of me getting my story out despite the negative attention he knew it would generate. The only thing I hoped would come of opening this can of worms was the chance to heal myself, but miraculously it has started to heal thirty-plus years of damage to the whole family. Jack's response is proof that writing a "scathing tell-all memoir," doesn't have to result in tabloid sensationalism, but can instead be the start of open and honest dialogue, which is the first step toward healing. So here it is.
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Two years ago my son Oran told me he was writing a memoir about his childhood — growing up with an absentee father, an unconventional mother, travelling with a circus when he was nine years old, going to middle school in Berkeley during the eighties, being educated in an alternative high school in Sedona, Arizona, his long, slow descent into the drug culture ending up with a heroin addiction, and his rocky (but eventually successful) road to recovery. When I asked him what the title was, he hesitated to tell me. I sensed he was afraid that I would be angry about it. Over a series of calls I finally convinced him to tell me the title of his memoir, and when I heard it, Give Me Some Bread with That Chicken Soup, I thought it was a hell of a good title.
Over time, as Oran began to trust that I really was in support of his writing the book, he finally agreed to show me some of the chapters he had written. Reading the chapters he sent was very difficult. My reactions were all over the map. On the one hand, I found myself getting angry and thinking, That didn't happen that way; that's not what I said, and That's not now how I remember it. And on the other hand I was feeling a great deal of sadness, pain, remorse and regret. Oh my God, did that really happen? Did he really go through that? I can't believe he had to suffer through that experience. There were places where I felt like Oran had totally misread me and misinterpreted my intentions. I felt like the person I was and the person who was being portrayed in his book were not the same person. In fact, I remember that about a week after he had sent the chapters for me to read, my wife asked me to call Oran and talk to him, and I yelled something like, "Why would I want to talk to someone who hates me!"
But as I reread those chapters and later the complete manuscript, I began to realize how, through the eyes of his experience, he could have perceived things the way he did. My compassion for the pain of his childhood, the isolation and loneliness he experienced, the fear that often overpowered him, the distrust, the cynicism, and the protective mechanisms that he had developed all made perfect sense to me. How could it have been otherwise? Having now read the book in its entirety, I am truly amazed that Oran survived his childhood as well as he did. He is one very strong and resilient individual, and I respect him for that.
As painful as it has been to confront the psychological damage created by my divorce from Oran's mother and the years of separation caused by my own fears and lack of awareness at some crucial times in Oran's growing up, the writing of his book has become a catalyst for my own growth and healing. I, too, came from a home where my mother and father divorced when I was six years old, and I can see now that much of how I reacted to my own divorce was a subconscious reaction to my own pain as a child. What I did was the opposite of Oran. I was so afraid of being abandoned by my parents that I tried to become the perfect child. I buried my own needs and feelings so that I would be safe, loved, and protected. In the process, I abandoned my own inner child. I put on an outer shell of everything is fine. Everything is all right. I am just fine. That's probably why so much of my professional life has revolved around building self-esteem, teaching people how to be successful (i.e., more perfect), and focusing on the positive rather than the negative side of life. I am sure that is why many people (who, like Oran, have experienced so much pain and are feeling it) have criticized the Chicken Soup for the Soul books for being too positive, too Pollyanna. I think they are more than that, but I now understand better where the critics are coming from.
It is true that for many years I have avoided certain aspects of my life that were painful, but as I have been healing my relationship with Oran, I have come to face some of these denials of my own pain, which numbed me off from being able to empathize with the needs Oran and his brother Kyle had as they were growing up. I have come to see that most of America is hurting — feeling abandoned, isolated, lonely, unloved, scared, disconnected from who they really are, as well as from each other, and are masquerading around as if all as well, using some sort of addiction — alcohol, drugs, sex, work, television, shopping, gambling, sports, travel — to numb out the pain and act as if everything is just fine.
As painful as coming to realize all of this is, it has been extremely healing for me, Oran, and the rest of our family. We (Oran, my wife Inga, Oran's mother, and Oran's brother Kyle) have been to several family retreats where we have broken through many of the past barriers of distrust, fear and separation. We have engaged in open, undefended and emotionally honest communication and have come to understand and appreciate each other at much deeper levels.
I remember one day when Oran and I stood in the hallway outside the bathroom at one of these retreats and talked non-stop for something like 6 hours, both of us afraid to interrupt the conversation and go to the bathroom for fear of losing the magic of that connection. I don't think either of us remembers much of the content of that conversation, but we both walked away from it feeling like we had the beginnings of a real father-son relationship. While it is still evolving and growing, it is extremely satisfying to know that we are both growing in our ability to love and forgive and appreciate each other.
I am extremely proud of my son and the book he has written. From its inception it has been the source of a profound healing in our family. I am grateful for his courage in recounting his journey, as difficult as it was for him to revisit all these painful moments in his experience in growing up into the incredible man of integrity he has become.
As I write this, I don't want to imply that either Oran or I have completed the work of becoming our whole selves or in coming together in total unconditional love. As he knows from his recovery experiences, and I know from the work that I do, it is a long journey. While we both still have a lot of growing to do, I know we are on the path. As a result of the work we are doing, I definitely feel more vulnerable, more present and more alive as I have more access to my real feelings; yet there is still an awkwardness to it all that I am slowly coming to accept as part of the human experience.
I now see that we are all just doing the best that we can in life. I no longer blame myself for who I was or what I did or didn't do. Instead I celebrate that we are committed to doing it better now that we are more aware. I now look forward to talking with Oran on the phone. I call him; he calls me — and we often have long and meaningful conversations…not always, but often. And for now that is enough. As Oran likes to say, the only way out is through.
Just one more thing. While the book does cover a lot of bizarre and painful moments in Oran's life, it is written well and it is written with an amazing amount of humor. I definitely laughed out loud as many times as I cried. Oran is a very good writer. He has a gift with words. He has definitely found his voice. He has a real talent for writing in a way that keeps you turning the pages — wanting to know what happens next.
I hope you'll read this book and that it will help you see where you too can confront your own inner demons. I hope it will inspire you to get out of denial and into telling the truth to and listening to the truth from the people you care about in your life — especially your children.
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I want to thank Powell's Books for giving me this opportunity. It has been an incredible week. Please visit www.orancanfield.com for more information, pictures, links, and updates. Thanks.